What it's about:
After finally landing a stable, great paying job in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District, Katie Victor’s world crumbles when her pastoral dream job morphs into a Salvador Dali landscape. She quickly discovers that her boss, the occasionally beautiful Felissa Sorbet, is actually a cutthroat schemer in four-inch heels with a history of abusing and destroying her assistants. Worse yet, after trying to switch law firms, Katie finds herself entrapped by Felissa’s successful efforts to sabotage her professionally. Pushed to the emotional breaking point, Katie’s personal life begins to disintegrate when death strikes suddenly and close to home. As her mind begins to teeter between her brutal reality and visions that the only way out is to murder Felissa, she is left with a dilemma, and a solution that will change her forever.
How to Kill a Lawyer is the story of Katie’s journey from the darkness of grief and revenge to the surprising strength that she finds inside her wounded self. It is The Devil Wears Prada seen through the glass doors of a John Grisham high rise.
An Excerpt From My Novel
How To Kill a Lawyer
A Story of Grief, Brokenness and Revenge
PLEASE DRESS ACCORDINGLY
Felissa Sorbet swept into the lobby with such purpose that all eyes immediately turned her way, and Katie knew instinctively that this was her new attorney. The one Bruce had warned her about. Felissa stood tall and thin with blood-red hair, fine and frizzy, that she sought to tame by twisting it in a bun at the nape of her neck. She perched her perfectly-shaped hands on slim hips as she surveyed the potential newcomers. After a spin on her heel, she spotted her victim, leaned forward and smiled a great big smile, pointing a manicured finger in Katie’s direction.
“Oh, why, it’s you, isn’t it?” She skittered over and placed her hands on Katie’s shoulders, with a fierce grip, speaking in a lyrical voice that sounded inappropriately enthusiastic. Leaning in close, almost nose-to-nose, Katie felt her hot breath. Up close, a few stray curls floated around a sharp face, and a little too much foundation couldn’t disguise the dusting of freckles that sprinkled her cheeks and nose. Her pale gray eyes lacked a human quality that defied definition. “Let’s work hard and have fun, shall we?” With all eyes on the two of them, Katie stiffly nodded her head and smiled back. Felissa pressed her sharp nails deeper and leaned to the side of Katie’s head, whispering in her ear, “I picked you out special, just for me. I could have had any secretary, but I chose you.” Then she straightened and announced for all to hear, “Now don’t disappoint me.”
Unbeknownst to her and by that single encounter, Katie Victor had taken the first step from golly-gee-whiz to hell when she followed Felissa’s breadcrumbs straight into danger on a path she’d never have set for herself, ignoring the warning fireflies that accompanied her along the way.
The role of patent secretary had not been part of Katie’s career plan. As a kid, she’d slept with a stuffed dolphin and dreamed herself a future where she’d work with animals. The San Diego zoo was her favorite haunt. Later, she hoped to join Jacques Cousteau, exploring his undersea world. As a teen in the late 1970’s, she was drawn to the romance of fighting for animal rights and going up against big brother. She heard of Greenpeace and determined she would join the good fight, launching from the Rainbow Warrior to ride a rigid inflatable, positioning herself between deadly harpoons and defenseless whales. Later, her father convinced her that a career devoted to activism and arrest for protest would not serve her well as she continued throughout her life. He also suggested she not get a tattoo. Ever.
In high school, she thought maybe she’d try the Peace Corps, where she could teach English in a foreign land. She promised herself to this future until graduation, when fear and reality flipped her hopes on end and squelched her plans. She couldn’t leave home for an adventure without boundaries. She could not leave her family behind.
Instead, she fulfilled her humanitarian instincts and played it safe, finding a low-risk, low-paying desk job at a non-profit organization across the Bay in Oakland. Assuming the position of Office Manager at “A Leg Up,” she dropped softly into an office of like-minded do-gooders. Here, she trained alongside case managers who provided support and guidance for clients, making a safe nest for herself while helping the disabled get on their feet as they learned to live and work within the community. She hung a Greenpeace calendar on the wall above her desk, content with her compromise. Until she wasn’t. Until time wore her down and reality again reared its head.
The hope-sucking nonprofit environment vacuumed Katie’s emotional and physical energy, spitting out a depressed and disillusioned young old woman. Between repaying student loans for a degree she never completed, and paying back taxes, her bank account never made it to black, leaving barely enough money for running shoes and cat food. At the office, lack of resources for clients and the lamentable fact of low social work pay—plus persistent unpaid overtime—set in motion a rethinking of her altruistic standards. Close to broke and disillusioned, after six years, she stepped away from charity and took a chance with a new career and a better financial future in the legal world. During her stint at A Leg Up, her friend Lori advised her to consider a legal career.
“Legal secretaries make a good salary, and you’ll be working with smart people in modern environments. And the firms pay for overtime.”
Sadly, a legal trainee took home almost twice the salary she made managing an office of twenty idealists. This was an opportunity too good to pass up. So she didn’t.
Noting that hindsight makes the past obvious, and looking back on her fundamental values, this choice of money over principles may have been her first big mistake.
In Katie’s defense, because of her father’s health issues, money and flexibility were requirements for any job she might pursue. In January of 1993, doctors found cancer cells in fluid taken from her dad’s lungs, and although he was not at the moment symptomatic, she and her sisters carried in their heads the knowledge that should his condition take a downslide, Katie would be the one of her three sisters to care for him. Her Waltonesque family of rescuers banded together in a crisis and, as the baby of the family, Katie was not usually expected to take a starring role. But this time would be different. Since she lived closest geographically and had few commitments, Katie would be the family first responder. Nothing would keep her from helping her family. All four girls felt that way. They held up each other’s’ world. An unprepared Katie was ready to step up when her number was called.
“There’s this one thing that’s a big negative about the job,” she confided to Lori. “Yes, the money and flexibility are great. But the title? Secretary?” It glared at her in fluorescent pink. Along with being a peace-seeker, Katie had been a feminist ever since she read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in tenth grade English class. She’d come to believe that “secretary” symbolized a woman’s subordinate position in the workplace. “I’m not sure I can shake the ‘60s image of the hot secretary in the tight skirt and heels bringing java to the boss.” The word gave her a headache and made her grind her teeth even during the day.
But the job she managed to find was in patent law, and patent secretaries were different animals. Rarely expected to answer an attorney’s phone, make travel arrangements or complete expense reports (and certainly never ever get coffee), the position more resembled an administrative trade with a special skill set and knowledge base. Convincing herself that the job looked nothing like the cliché, she compromised, accepting the name and calculating that money and benefits were worth the offensive label. But she wondered if that subservient 60’s image lay buried in the minds of the attorneys who consciously or not desired to suppress her autonomy
Setting social ambivalence aside, five days a week, she caught the San Francisco MUNI train and smiled “good morning” to the residents and merchants as the car bumped along from the Ocean Beach avenues to the high-rise towers in the Financial District. Dressed in the secretary’s uniform (dark skirt, colorful blouse, sheer black hose, and sneakers), she stowed a pair of heels, lunch, purse, and a book in a backpack, along with an extra pair of stockings “just in case.” The bustle of merchants as they hustled business outside the wobbly rattle of the trolley made her giddy inside and she was excited to be working side-by-side with smart attorneys. And though her lawyers were no Atticus Finch or Perry Mason, they drafted patents that fought—and sometimes won—the intellectual property (IP) wars at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In addition, she felt in good company since after all, Albert Einstein had been a patent examiner.
“Frankie, I swear, I feel just like Mary Tyler Moore, without the hat,” she told her sister, who couldn’t quite picture her quixotic sibling in a law firm. Frankie worked within the San Diego County court system and was glad for her sister’s windfall, but was skeptical. However, since Katie would be on the other side of the legal structure, it might work out.
Katie's first legal job was a blazing success. She found work at a twelve-attorney patent boutique, Richards & Reed (R&R), that filled a large suite tucked inside a prominent skyscraper on the twenty-seventh floor at One Post Street, off the Powell Street subway station. Soft leather chairs and cream colored Berber carpeting, along with deep rosewood desks and bookshelves combined to create a warm atmosphere cloaked in mystery by the San Francisco fog, a comfy hideaway showing off a postcard view, with a conference room directly facing the Transamerica Pyramid.
Stimulated by the downtown commotion, once a week Katie abandoned her secretary façade and jogged north to Jack Kerouac Alley. There, she paid silent homage to the ghostly residue of the beat generation, amazed to be standing on the streets the poets walked. Closing her eyes and concentrating, she rose above the smell of urine, cigarettes and empty whiskey bottles that threatened to take over the spirit of the alley. There, in the middle of the workday where a few blocks away she’d been surrounded by lawyers, the alley transported her in time, where she felt the presence of Jack Kerouac himself: “Does kittykat know there's a pigeon on the clothes closet?”
But like every happy balloon, this one was headed for deflation. It turned out that the partners who had always touted their “family environment” were full of hot air, and when an arrow found its mark, they sank the little airship. It was the last week of April, 1993 when a two-day rainy period with accompanying thunder and lightning provided the gloomy atmosphere. The partners called a meeting in the big conference room.
Don McWilliams, the managing partner, spoke with confidence. “Before I start, I’d like to thank you for the hard work you’ve done here at Richards and Reed. Our fine reputation is in large part due to the diligence each of you has shown during your time with us. I’ve called this meeting because some of you may begin hearing rumors about upcoming changes and I want to make sure you hear it from me first.” Everyone shuffled against one another. “To put it bluntly, the partners have decided that it is in the best interests of the firm and our clients to combine our resources with those of a full service law firm. I’m sure you’ve heard of Mitchell, Owen, Bates and Young, commonly referred to as MOBY. With this group behind us, we’ll be able to serve our clients more fully and broaden our reach into the IP community not only here in San Francisco, but worldwide.”
Katie glanced at the other secretaries with wide eyes. Wow. He didn’t even ease into it—just threw out the facts and hoped they wouldn’t freak out. They’d all heard of MOBY, and only a couple of success-driven associates were thrilled at the thought of crossing over to the shark side of the law.
Don continued. “Don’t worry. We’re taking most of you with us.” Katie noted that the office manager and accounting clerk were missing.
“The new firm specializes in commercial projects and litigation, but we’ll be working strictly with the patent group. As you know, they’re highly respected in the legal community, and they need the prosecution skills we provide.” Noting the restlessness in the room, he made a point to address their concerns. “We’ve negotiated an excellent package for all of you. You’ll each receive a fifteen percent raise, plus benefits that will be far better than what we can offer here.” He smiled. “We’ll take a field trip to our new offices tomorrow afternoon. Please dress accordingly so as to make a good first impression.”
And that was that. The moist air didn’t seep out slowly, but gushed and spit its way out as the little law firm of Richards & Reed descended from the misty San Francisco sky.
He left the room, and the three other partners could barely stifle their delight, smiling and assuming everyone would rubber-stamp their decision. But no one was exactly thrilled. Staff and attorneys weren’t convinced they’d survive working alongside legal prodigies. Would Katie be able to compete with their elite secretaries?
She ran after Don, catching him by the elbow. “Will we get to keep our same attorneys? Can I still work with Herb and Anna?”
He turned and put a hand on her shoulder. “Well, some of the secretaries will be expected to support an additional attorney. You’ll be supporting Anna and Herb, and I’m pleased to tell you that MOBY has picked out an exceptional attorney for you. She’s excited to begin working with you. Her name is Felissa Sorbet and she’s top-notch.”
Great. A third attorney. Katie did fine with two, but juggling three lawyers at once? “Can I meet her first and then decide?”
He furrowed his brow. “Well, you—you’ll meet her soon enough. Don’t worry, Katie. You’re one of our best secretaries and we know you’ll do a great job. You’ll do just fine. And I’ll announce an extra surprise for all of you after the field trip tomorrow.” He smiled down at her. “I think you’ll end up happy with the new situation.” Noting the frown on her face, he went on. “We didn’t have a choice, Katie. We had to make this change. It will be better for all of us, believe me. Now, please excuse me. I have a call to make.” He winked and smiled. “And you have a field trip to prepare for.” A field trip? This was neither a field she wanted to explore nor a trip for which she had appropriate luggage.
Making her way down the hall and around the corner, she found the library, her safe place. The shelved books comforted her, and she wondered if they’d be coming along. Would there be room for our books and theirs too?
At the window, the gray sky stormed, small bursts of lightening taking aim at the pyramid, the gigantic dunce cap making a mockery of her naiveté. (Was that clap of thunder coming from inside or outside her head?) She’d foolishly thought they were kind of a family…. Having heard horror stories of verbal whippings and long hours forced upon staff at large law offices, she’d always been proud to say they weren’t like those other firms. But now they weren’t going to be like them, they were going to be them. The partners in whom she’d trusted had auctioned her off, assuming she’d be grateful to sell herself for a fifteen percent raise.
She left work with a heavy heart, but decided not to waste effort whining about a situation she couldn’t change. Maybe she’d make new friends and impress those hot-shot attorneys with her skill and dedication. Maybe Don was right. Not to mention, the extra cash would come in handy. Yes, she’d make the best of things and would shake off the anxiety that butterflied inside her.
But the next morning, her resolve dissolved into the atmosphere, and the warmth and camaraderie she’d found in her cozy boutique vanished like a dream when the elevator doors opened for the tour of the twenty-third floor of Embarcadero Four.